June 17, 2012
It will be hard not to miss outgoing Sierra Mar Executive Chef Craig von Foerster (above) and dishes like his flat-out gorgeous scallop trio, with one grilled just so tender with a vibrant caper salsa verde, another perched on potent potato puree and drizzled with truffle vinaigrette, and the third lavished with a grain mustard and smoked bacon cream sauce.
But apparently one government agency will miss his revenue stream even more, according to his longtime friend and Executive Sous Chef Matt Millea.
"The State of California, specifically the CHP’s coffers, will miss Craig’s annual contributions," Millea says. "Craig was, at one time, a professional bicycle racer, but he never lost his competitive spirit when he went from two wheels to four. His commute to and from Seaside and Big Sur, in his Subaru WRX, was often interrupted by the kaleidoscope from hell—the twirling lights and sirens of a CHP cruiser."
Von Foerster is leaving the Post Ranch property after 16 years as exec chef and 19 overall. His last day on the job is today.
From here he'll head to a Springfield, Missouri farm his wife and collaborator Tamara inherited, and toward dreams of a small restaurant of his own, with maybe a prep cook and a dishwasher and him preparing each dish personally.
“The farm came to us for a reason,” he says. “Once we get it going I’d like to open a small farm-to-table restaurant, not just the vegetables, but our own beef, pork, charcuterie and cheese.
“But it’s not easy leaving here. I’ve been incredible lucky to be chef at Post Ranch, an incredible place with incredible people.”
After a highly competitive hiring process, Casanova and La Bicyclette Exec Chef John Cox will fill some sizable Sierra Mar shoes, but not without some familiarity with the restaurant and the parent company. Cox worked the Post Ranch Inn Property from 2000-03 before serving as corporate chef for the Passport Resorts collection of sophisticated resorts.
"Post Ranch is a dream job," he says. "It's the best location in the country and the ingredients on the Central Coast are the best you can possibly get."
In just a couple of years at Casanova and La Bici, Cox has significantly raised the flavor quotient by seeking out tiny farms and flexing seasonality and creativity at every turn. Look for him to build on that with precision and execution that wasn't possible doing 1,500 covers between the two Carmel restaurants.
"I'm excited about the refinement and plating," he says. "The details, and the artistic outlet."
The greater aim: truly singular cuisine.
"For a while every Michelin three star was replicating [Ferran Adria's] elBulli," he says. "Now it's [Copenhagen foraging-obsessed] Noma. It's a very small community in the elite restaurant scene. Chefs are taking so much from each other so you get execution that's flawless, but you don't get the uniqueness. I don't want to be replicating what the guys up the coast are doing. I want to create something extremely special, unique to Post Ranch. I think the owners will give me the support to do that."
He does add that he's not going to fix what's far from broken.
"Craig spent 16 perfecting the food," he says. "I'm not going to go in there and change that. That would be stupid."
He's also thrilled to have Millea as his chief lieutenant, saying the popular and well-connected Palo Colorado chef is simply "the best in the business."
Millea would've cherished the top slot himself, but is such a classy and high character cat that in the aftermath of the von Foerster announcement he was most concerned with honoring his chef's legacy.
“He’s a mentor, a friend, a brother, the best chef Sierra Mar’s ever had," Millea says.
The other day Millea sent me a note which referenced a speech I heard Thomas Keller say at a dinner in his honor at Pebble Beach Food & Wine, "Some of you have heard me talk about passion before. It's definitely overrated. It's really about desire and determination."
From Millea: "I think you wrote or referred to a story recently regarding Thomas Keller. In it he stated something to the effect of: passion is a great quality for a chef to have but he, TK, credits much of his success to persistence.
"The same can be said of Craig. For having had no formal training as a chef, it is amazing what he has achieved. He has a persistence and passion to continually and consistently refine his craft, ardently seek the finest berry, apple, quince, cucumber or beet, etc. and to prepare and present his cuisine on the line in the kitchen everyday he is here. The level of dedication he has shown for his vocation is only matched by his ability teach and inspire the best out of everyone in his kitchen, personally and professionally."
That night in Pebble Beach, Keller went on to say this: "One of our overarching goals at the restaurant, is what we're going to do tomorrow. How are we going to make whatever we're doing, better tomorrow? How are you going to come to work tomorrow, and just do a little better than you did yesterday?"
Look for Cox and Millea to execute precisely that philosophy with delicious and progressive results at Sierra Mar.